Revitalizing groove and soul in a spirited tribute to Mr. High & Mighty
by Todd K Smith
In the early, heady days of Gov’t Mule they saw themselves as a recreational vehicle to their day jobs. Formed from the ranks of The Allman Brothers, guitarist Warren Haynes, bassist Allen Woody and Dickey Betts’ drummer Matt Abts joined forces to resurrect the spirit of the muscle-bound power trios of the late sixties. With Cream, Mountain and the Jimi Hendrix Experience as their blueprint, they rolled up their sleeves and went to work creating southern rock built on a blues backbone, yet able to stretch out into long extended jams. They toured with a mixed breed attracting a colorful array of fans from blues purists to dead-heads to metal maniacs.
In a time when other groups shunned the idea, Gov’t Mule always allowed the audience to record their live shows. In fact, as far back as 1994, the year the band first stepped foot on the stage, they had embraced the concept of “bootleg” recordings. Warren Haynes, founder, guitarist and singer for “The Mule” witnessed the trend first hand when he joined the The Allman Brothers in the spring of 1989. “It was inevitable,” says Haynes in his recent conversation with the Reno Gazette Journal, “the improvisation we have in the Allmans and in The Mule is what thrills the audience. That only happens live, so I understand its collectabililty.” The progressive three-piece predicted the future of live audio recording and welcomed it. Today you can download recent Gov’t Mule shows by visiting www.muletracks.com.
The most recent buzz surrounding “the Mule” is their critically praised current release High and Mighty. Reorganized after the tragic death of Allen Woody in August, 2000 the band opted to naturally develop into a four-piece. Recruiting Allman Brothers’ (and Rolling Stones) keyboardist Chuck Leavell and Greg Allman bassist Danny Louis, the band expanded their ability, sound and texture. “This is certainly our most aggressive line-up to date,” says Haynes in his North Carolina drawl. “When Woody died we thought the band was done finished, but the spirit of the band continued on with Danny and Chuck so much so we eventually decided this would be the next evolution.”
Haynes details how each brought their own personality to the band. “Danny has such reverence for our sound. He has a long history of playing with Woody and has the deepest respect for what we want to accomplish. He’s also an established guitarist in his own right and can generate ideas on many levels. He might lay out in the back ground or come charging in for impact.” As for the talents of the current bass player, Haynes comments, “Andy is perfect for Matt’s drumming. They fuel each other whether we strip it back to something real mellow like “Endless Parade” or a big hard rocker like “Streamline Woman” off the new CD.
After a splendid return to form with 2004’s Déjà Voodoo, Gov’t Mule set about making an unapologetic ‘70’s-inspired record in spring of ‘06. “Usually we write a dozen songs for a record,” says Haynes. “With this one we came up with ‘Mr. High and Mighty’ and knew that track had to open the record. Then came ‘Brand New Angel’ and the two needed to sit next to each other as a perfect tandem. It was immediately apparent this set was going to have a rock edge, but we were open to explore different angles.” Haynes claims the band wrote 18 songs and anguished over the decision to shave it down to 12. “We loved all 18,” he says, “I don’t think that’s ever happened to us.”
Producer Gordie Johnson and Haynes took the bulk of the songs into the studio, changed the arrangements, deconstructed a number of tracks and rebuilt them. “There’s never a time we’re not ready to try anything,” says Haynes of the band. “That’s the confidence of playing with musicians of such high caliber.” Songs that started as soundcheck jams, morphed into powerful, catchy tracks like the above mentioned Blue Öyster Cult-inspired “Brand New Angel” with its infectious hook and generous cowbell, or the delta blues driven “Brighter Days” where Leavell’s organ playing rages over a lyrically political undercurrent.
“The nature of this band is to challenge many established forms,” says Haynes. “That’s why we’re such a different outlet than the Allman’s it’s the root of our name and the pride of our music.” The eight-minute Reggae-styled “Unring the Bell,” the emotional “Child of the Earth” and the protesting “Like Flies” underwent significant arrangement changes to heighten their impact. “Records are the blueprint for what may happen live,” continues Haynes. “We’ve gotten more open-minded over the years and with almost 1,250 shows behind us, our confidence in each other gives us the freedom to really open up and express ourselves.”
From the CD’s cover to the thunderous music it contains, Haynes and company are promoting the vitality and energy of their ‘Rock in the Borough’ vibe. “We’re based in New York City,” say Haynes, “not Times Square, but Brooklyn that’s our ‘hood’.” Hence the reason their new batch of songs play out like a summer street party from the southern strains of “Million Miles from Yesterday” to the Pink Floyd meets Zeppelin “So Weak, So Strong.” Even the tribute to their old tour mate George Porter Jr. in “Three String George” pays homage to a visceral collection, deep in heritage and stained with passion.
Website: Gov't Mule, ATO Records